Speed Reads

Science!

We evolved to take a punch in the face, study finds

That shiner you got from an ill-advised bar fight? Just be thankful it's not a lot worse.

According to a new study from the University of Utah, the human face has evolved to be able to take a good punch. Researchers David R. Carrier and Michael H. Morgan examined the skulls of australopiths, apelike ancestors of humans that went extinct 2 million years ago, and found that their jaws, cheeks, eyes, and noses — areas most likely to get hit during a fight — were the strongest.

"We suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists," Carrier and Morgan said. During prehistoric times, our ancestors relied less on language and far more on physical fighting in order to settle disputes and survive, so it makes sense that human skulls would evolve to take on the strongest shapes that allow for facial protection.

All that evolution, though, is gradually reversing: Since we no longer rely on fist fights to settle all disputes, human faces are gradually losing that evolutionary protection. So next time you're in a sticky situation, it's probably best to use your words, not your fists.